Paraguay has known two dictators throughout its history. The first, and most recent one, Alfredo Stroessner, held the longest dictatorial government: 45 years. The second dictator, who is not as well-known, was José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, who was proclaimed dictator from 1816 until his death in 1840.

José Gaspar, or Doctor Francia, as he was known, studied theology and became a master of philosophy at the Universidad de Córdoba, in Argentina. He spoke five languages by the time of his death; Spanish, English, Guaraní, French, and Latin. A known arrogant and bright man, he adopted an isolating policy in regards of international relations. He had no interest in what other new and developing nations in South America had to offer, not even in what commerce and navigation concerned. He believed Paraguay could be self-sustained and closed nearly all of the ports and borders available for foreign trade (with the eventual exception of Itapúa, which he had to open to be able to export the surplus of national products).

Fervently atheist, he wanted to rid the newly independent nation of Paraguay of all and any foreign influence, so he cut off relations with the Holy See, and eventually closed up any available church or worshipping temple. He had closed up all the borders, even for people entering and leaving the country. Paraguayans outside of the country weren't allowed back in until his death, and the same thing happened to non-natives residing in the country. He was especially wary of representatives of foreign nations asking to be allowed into Paraguay, and, since an incident with an emissary from France, Captain Saguier, he became extremely prejudiced against Europeans. A victim of such behavior was the French botanist Aimé Bonpland, who was discovered doing some research on tropical plants in Misiones, North of Paraguay. Francia asked for his immediate detention, and confined him to a house in Itauguá for ten years, until he allowed him to leave the country.

But I digress.

You might infer from these anecdotes that Doctor Francia was less than tolerant when it came to his ruling. All political activity in the country had stopped. He allowed no opposition, and had a close control of everything going on in Asunción through his spies called "Pyrague".

During the Holy Week of 1820, a plan had been devised to murder Francia during his usual Friday strolls. One of the members of the conspiracy confessed what they planned to do to a Catholic priest who, of course, reported it to Francia. No one was specifically named, so Francia ordered the imprisonment of everyone he considered dangerous. Many of the imprisoned men were the ones who had led, along with him, the rebellion that resulted in Paraguayan independence, back in 1811. One of these men was Pedro Juan Caballero.

Pedro Juan had been a member of the first Junta Gubernativa that Paraguay had, along with Francia. He too was sent to prison, without actually being involved in the conspiracy.

The period known after this was called El Terror, represented mostly by persecutions and repressions. It is said that more than 100 people were executed by firing squads daily. Francia knew no opposition.

Pedro Juan had information that he was going to be excecuted as well, so commited suicide in his cell on July 13 of 1821, hanging himself. Before he did that, though, with a knife he had, he cut his index finger in half and with his blood wrote on the wall of his cell: "I know that suicide is against the laws of men and God, but the tyrant's thirst of blood shall not be quenched with mine".

Sé que el suicidio va contra las leyes de Dios y el hombre, pero la sed de sangre del tirano de mi patria no ha de aplacarse con la mía.

Pretty dramatic, huh?


Cardozo, Efraim. "El Paraguay Independiente". Editora Litocolor. Asunción, Paraguay – 1983.

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